As countries gather for COP27 this month, how much has really changed since COP26 or the Paris Agreement? You only have to look at the news – or out the window – to understand that the climate crisis is well and truly here.
Whether we’re rebuilding from the devastating effects of a flood or working on a new development, sustainability should be front of mind for everyone in the construction industry.
According to research, the construction sector is responsible for 39% of all global carbon emissions. This is more than shipping and aviation combined. Operational carbon accounts for 28% – think heating, cooling and powering buildings – and 11% is embodied carbon produced during construction. That includes materials, labour, transport and demolition, and currently this type of emission is unregulated.
To reach net zero targets, architects need to reduce both types of emissions, so the first step in any new project should be to determine whether a new build is necessary or if a refurbishment would work instead.
This principle also applies to other equipment – replacing a fleet of functioning diesel vehicles, for example, may not be better for the environment than investing in electric vehicles when you consider the embodied carbon that already went into production of those diesel engines.
Making smarter choices
When it comes to materials, there are three things to consider.
- Can the project be completed with fewer resources? Reducing materials immediately reduces the embodied carbon footprint. Being mindful about waste will help to save costs as well as being better for the planet.
- Can I reduce the overall weight of the building? Lightweight materials and reducing the space between columns, for example, can help here.
- How sustainable are my materials? Swapping steel or concrete for natural materials like low-carbon steel or timber where appropriate can lower emissions.
Adjusting designs so the building receives optimum sunlight and ventilation is another great idea, and can be further enhanced with wall insulation and solar shading. Better ventilation can also help to reduce instances of airborne illnesses, such as COVID-19, and means people with asthma will suffer fewer attacks.
Adding double or triple glazing and heat pumps should be a given at this stage, especially with the soaring cost of energy bills. If the building can support them, thin solar panels can be installed on the roof to provide a renewable energy source.
When calculating the carbon impact of a building, accurate data is vital. There’s a worrying trend across all industries of seriously underestimating the volume of carbon being generated, and that’s a miscalculation the world simply cannot afford.
Sensors and other innovations in technology are available to tackle this. Artificial intelligence can also play a role in assessing how energy efficient a building is and how different factors during construction contribute to embodied carbon. This means changes can be made to designs before any construction work has started.
Challenge the norm
For decades, we’ve been designing buildings under the assumption that we understand the climate and environmental challenges of a given region. Shifting away from old conventions and adopting a new state of mind is a big change, but making a conscientious decision to lower carbon emissions is the smartest thing to do in the long run.
Whatever the outcome of COP27, sustainability is better for everyone. We have an opportunity to help people reduce energy bills and promote wellbeing. To get more advice on industry trends from Multiproject, get in touch today on 020 7096 8235.